The Gamification of Data

I attended the Insight Innovation Conference this week – a conference where marketing research professionals gather to think about the future of their industry. A number of the sessions dealt with the topic of gamification. Marketing research is really all about gathering data, and a lot of that data is gathered via surveys. And, not surprisingly, market researchers are finding it harder than ever to get people to participate in their surveys, finish the surveys even when they do participate, and supply trustworthy, high quality answers all the way through. It’s a vexing problem, and it is one that is central to the future of this industry.

That’s where gamification comes in. Some of the smartest minds in the research business think that by making surveys more fun and more engaging, they can not only improve response rates, but actually gather better quality data. And this has implications for all of us.

One particularly interesting presentation provided some fascinating “before and after” examples of boring “traditional” survey questions, and the same question after it had been “gamified.” As significantly, he showed encouraging evidence that gamified surveys do in fact deliver more and better data.

And while it’s relatively easy to see how a survey, once made more fun and engaging, would lead people to answer more questions, it’s less obvious how gamification leads to better data.

In one example, the survey panel was asked to list the names of toothpaste brands. In a standard survey, survey respondents would often get lazy, mentioning the top three brands and moving to the next question. This didn’t provide researchers with the in-depth data they were seeking. When the question was designed to offer points for supplying more than three answers and bonus points for identifying a brand that wasn’t in the top five, survey participants thought harder, and supplied more complete and useful data.

In another example, survey participants were given $20 at the start of the survey, and could earn more or lose money based on how their responses compared to the aggregate response. Participation was extremely high and data quality was top-notch.

Still other surveys provided feedback along the way, generally letting the survey participants know how their answers compared to the group.

Most intriguing to me is that gamification allowed for tremendous subtlety in questions. In a game format, it’s very easy to ask both “what do you think” and “what do you think others think,” but these are devilishly hard insights to get it in traditional survey format.

Gamification already intersects with crowdsourcing and user generated content quite successfully. Foursquare is just one well-known example. But when the marketing research industry begins to embrace gamification in a big way, it’s a signal that this is a ready-for-prime-time technique that can be applied to almost any data gathering application. Maybe it’s time to think about adding some fun and games!

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